MIAMI (August 8, 2012) – A pristine white soccer net hangs from the goal at the FIU Soccer Stadium. The FIU men’s soccer team is sporting new white practice shirts and new gray shorts and, oh yeah, the Panthers have a new head coach. The dawn of a fresh era in FIU men’s soccer came to fruition Wednesday as the Panthers opened fall practice.
Coming off a 5-8-4 season in 2011, the Panthers wasted little time getting a jump on the 2012 campaign. This past spring new FIU Head Coach Kenny Arena instilled a return to the fundamentals approach and a focus on being one of the best conditioned teams in the nation.
“You can tell our work ethic is very high,” said senior midfielder Lucas Di Croce, who cut off his shoulder length locks to keep with the newness theme around FIU soccer. “Every single player on the team is pushing themselves. It’s been a very professional environment around this team. Coach [Arena] focuses a lot on technical work. He wants every player to be fundamentally sound and he pushes us in practice so that we know what it feels like to play 90 minutes in a game. He teaches us what he wants to see from us in the games and we execute it to the best of our abilities.”
Arena, who spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach at UCLA, looks to return FIU soccer to its winning ways. FIU’s best finish in recent years was reaching the 2007 Conference USA Final against No. 9 Tulsa, where the Panthers fell 3-2.
Upon his hiring last March, Arena found a hungry, receptive group of players ready to turn the page on 2011.
“They were very eager to learn,” said Arena, who is the fifth head coach in FIU men’s soccer history. “They were easily motivated. They are a talented group. They have not gotten the recognition that they deserve. We are preparing to go out there this season and show everybody what this team is made of.”
The Panthers, who trained for more than a month in the spring with Arena and his staff, are comprised of a balanced group of 15 upperclassmen and 13 underclassmen.
A lot of times there is an adjustment period between a new coaching staff and returning players. However, the Panthers found the transition to be seamless despite playing in a different system.
“I don’t believe there are good or bad coaches,” said Di Croce, who was third on the team with eight points a season ago. “It’s just different mentalities, different techniques of play and sometimes you have to adapt to what the coaches say and sometimes the coach has to adapt to the way the players are. We are very comfortable with the style of play coach has brought to us.”
Although Arena does not have previous head coaching experience, he has been a part of some of the top college teams where he was responsible for player development and recruiting. Arena helped lead UCLA to three Pac-12 titles, three NCAA quarterfinal appearances and a 2011 College Cup appearance. He also coached at George Mason and Virginia. The Panthers are well aware of Arena’s credentials.
“Coach Arena comes from a very good school in UCLA and before that he was with some great programs,” senior defender Joe Dawkins said. “His experience is going to be crucial for us this year. FIU is a growing program, but I have no doubt that in a few years it will be where [Arena’s] previous schools were. On top of that, he is a player’s coach. Everybody is happy. Everybody is positive. It’s a great environment for young players to be in and everybody is growing.”
Fans can catch the 2012 FIU men’s soccer team in action as the Panthers kick off the season on Friday, Aug. 24, at 7:00 p.m. against Bryant University at FIU Soccer Stadium on the Modesto A. Madique Campus.
For ticket information to FIU home matches, call the FIU Ticket Office at 305-FIU-GAME or log onto www.FIUSports.com. Fans can follow @FIUMensSoccer on Twitter and find us on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/FIUMensSoccer.
About FIU Athletics: FIU Athletics is home to more than 400 student-athletes in 18 different sports. Athletic events are played in seven different venues on FIU's campuses (Modesto A. Maidique and Biscayne Bay), including U.S. Century Bank Arena and Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium.
About FIU: Florida International University is recognized as a Carnegie engaged university. Its colleges and schools offer more than 180 bachelors, masters and doctoral programs in fields such as engineering, international relations, architecture, law and medicine. As one of South Florida’s anchor institutions, FIU is worlds ahead in its local and global engagement, finding solutions to the most challenging problems of our time. FIU emphasizes research as a major component of its mission and enrolls nearly 48,000 students in two campuses and three centers including FIU Downtown on Brickell and the Miami Beach Urban Studios. More than 140,000 alumni live and work in South Florida. For more information about FIU, visit http://www.fiu.edu/.